Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is cutting all events in the state of Indiana in protest to anti-gay legislation signed into law by Governor Mike PearceReuters

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has announced that he is cancelling all his company events in Indiana, US, after Governor Mike Pence signed a bill into law that allows anyone to use religion as a defence if they are sued by a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person.

"Today we are cancelling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination," Benioff posted on Twitter on Thursday 26 March.

Benioff has long been a champion of social causes and he was part of group of technology CEOs in Indiana who tried to get the Governor to veto the bill on Wednesday 25 March by co-signing a letter to him opposing the new law, which is known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The act means that businesses in Indiana would be allowed to turn away gay customers in the name of religious freedom if they don't want to do business with them, and there would be no legal recourse for gay people that had been discriminated against.

The measure is being pushed out in at least a dozen other states in the US, but Indiana is the first state this year to pass the bill.

We don't want our employees impacted by this law

Benioff told Re/code that Salesforce employs 2,000-3,000 people in the state of Indiana due to its 2013 acquisition of email marketing firm ExactTarget, and since 2007, the most important customer event for ExactTarget, called Connections, has been held in Indianapolis.

That event will now be moved to New York in September, and other events that were planned in the state will also now be cancelled.

"We've made significant investments in Indiana. We run major marketing events and conferences there. We're a major source of income and revenue to the state of Indiana, but we simply cannot support this kind of legislation," Benioff said.

"We have a large number of employees and customers who would be impacted dramatically by this legislation. ... I'm really just advocating on their behalf."

But Benioff doesn't want to just stop at cancelling events – he hopes his actions will convince the CEOs of other tech companies in Indiana to follow suit, in a bid to persuade the governor to reverse the law.

Tech CEOs in Indiana need to stand against discrimination

"Gov. Pence says he wants to bring the tech industry to Indiana and to increase the number of tech-related jobs in his state, but he doesn't seem to understand that a significant portion of the tech industry is gay," he said.

"This is one of the most important industries in the country and he has been advocating for us to expand and invest in Indiana, but you can't say that and then say you're going to legalise discrimination like this. The tech industry is not going to support this kind of legislation and is going to react against it."

Pence has been trying to push anti-gay legislation into law for a while. In 2014, together with other conservative lawmakers, he sought to amend Indiana's constitution in order to ban same-sex marriages but was beaten by a coalition of right-leaning businesses, Democrats and supporters of the previous Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Pence told local Indianapolis radio station WIBC that the new law is not meant to be discriminatory: "This was a measure that frankly, Indiana should have enacted many years ago. It gives our courts guidance about evaluating government action and puts the highest standard – it essentially says, if a government is going to compel you to act in a way that violates your religious beliefs, there has to be a compelling state interest."